As the Canucks and Sharks series unfolded and devolved in front of a national audience, another series from recent memory came to mind. Last season’s Pittsburgh/Philadelphia series seemed eerily similar to the sweep that took many by surprise. Most hockey analysts called the Canucks deeper and more talented than the San Jose Sharks. But the Canucks tried to turn the series into a brawl like the Philadelphia Flyers successfully did to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But as the hockey world witnessed, the Sharks remained disciplined and the Vancouver Canucks folded in vintage Canucks fashion.
Sloppiness Wipes Out Canucks
The San Jose Sharks were given 24 opportunities for the man advantage in just four games. They cashed in nearly thirty percent of the time. Whether or not the calls were soft or contested, once the Sharks were up a man, they were deadly. Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski both scored three goals on the power play. A key to the series for Vancouver was keeping the big names from doing damage. But going a man down so often let the big three goal scorers in San Jose freely move. In fact, Pavelski, Marleau and Couture scored 11 of the Sharks 15 goals. This was exactly what the Canucks did not want to have happen.
Why then, do the Sharks need to erase this series from memory? Because this series will not happen again. The Canucks were sloppy and never got their feet set in the first round. Second round playoff teams have fought through adversity and are firing on all cylinders. The Sharks cannot expect the same result in the next round. Their game plan must shift.
The Sharks did exactly what they needed to do to win, but the Canucks made it very easy for them. They won 56% of the faceoffs. They excelled on the power play. They were disciplined and stayed out of the box. Niemi played phenomenal in net. The big three scored in bunches.
But a lot can be attributed to the ridiculous melodrama that is Vancouver 24/7. If there is one way to fire up your opponent, it would be to call them “un-Canadian.”
Sharks Possible Opponents
Nobody wants anything to do with Chicago. The Minnesota Wild are currently putting forth a valiant effort with their third string goalie, but they look like a minor league team in comparison to the possession and precision passing that the Blackhawks have. It is really a shame that they finished behind the Canucks, as they would have put up a great series with the San Jose Sharks.
San Jose will face Chicago if the Ducks win their series and the Hawks close out Minnesota.
The problem that faces the Sharks in a series with the Blackhawks is a match-up problem. Chicago does not play a physical and gritty game. They pass the puck around and score mind-bending skill goals. Their defense is fast, disciplined, and well-positioned. Their second string goalie, Ray Emery, could start on most any other team in the NHL. Corey Crawford is putting on a clinic. San Jose plays a similar style in terms of possessing the puck and keeping fundamentally strong. But the Blackhawks do the Sharks’ gameplan better. They are deep and can hurt you on any line.
The Sharks can win this series if Antti Niemi has the series of his life. The great equalizer in the playoffs is goaltending. The 2003 Detroit Red Wings know that story all too well.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues utterly embarrassed the Sharks last year. They were far more physical and the goalie tandem kept superstars like Marleau and Thornton silent. The Blues are currently locked in a pitched battle with defending Stanley Cup Champions Los Angeles.
The Sharks will face the Blues if the Blues, Red Wings, and Blackhawks all come out on top.
The Blues still present the Sharks the same problem as 2012. They have been heavy hitters and are much more present in the blue paint on both ends of the rink. They have delivered almost 100 more hits in five games than the Sharks did in four. But even with all that physical play, they have only been shorthanded four more times than San Jose has. Pavelski, Couture, and Marleau will likely have a much tougher time getting the free runs they did in Vancouver.
The Sharks can win this series if their bottom lines step up the pressure and they do not get into a physical brawl with the Blues big men. They cannot win a physical fight with St. Louis, period. But the big men for St. Louis will slow the scorers down like they did last year. Raffi Torres must lead the charge with Brent Burns to keep the pressure up when the top lines are off.
Los Angeles Kings
Reference the previous section on the Blues/Kings series. These two teams have come out hitting hard and playing solid all-around games. The difference in this series may be the reigning Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Quick. The Kings netminder propelled the 8th seeded Kings all the way to a Cup last year for those with short memories.
The Sharks will face the Kings if the Kings, Red Wings, and Blackhawks emerge victorious.
A match up with the defending Cup winners will prove very exciting for fans of both squads. The Kings are a team that can play many types of strategies. They can match most teams on speed, size, skill, and are definitely not afraid to get into goalie duels. What makes them deadly is their ability to string together wins in the playoffs. San Jose should be afraid that they are currently on a three-game win streak.
The Sharks can win this series if the superstars continue pushing and scoring at a rampant pace. The defense must also hold airtight against the aggressive forecheck of LA. Los Angeles can have issues scoring, but if San Jose cannot beat Quick, one or two a game would be enough.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings have a serious case of Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome so far in the postseason. Their first two losses were awful and made the series look like it was completely one sided, but they have shown an innate ability to bounce back, like the veteran team they are.
The Sharks will play the Red Wings if the Wings win along with the Wild.
Detroit is always going to be a playoff contender, purely on proven coaching and veteran leadership. Pavel Datsyuk can dazzle with the way he effortlessly handles the puck in traffic with multiple defenders on him. There is no denying the skill that the Wings hold, but they will be a poor match against the Sharks. They cannot lean on one aspect of their team if the Hyde Wings come out and Justin Abdelkader levels a defenseless Shark. What the other three match ups hold that Detroit does not is a stout defense. If the Red Wings get into a shootout with the Sharks, Antti Niemi will beat Jimmy Howard. Easily.
The Sharks will win this series if the Red Wings fail to shake Niemi’s confidence early. If San Jose plays their usual game, they take this one handily.
Rust Versus Rest
It is a debate for the ages (also discussed here, here, and here). How long of a break is too long? In the Sharks’ case, round two cannot come soon enough. They came flying out of the gates and every day off is another day of momentum lost. If each series left gets pushed to seven, the remaining teams will be banding together and fully fired. It is akin to starting a sprint from a seated position against a rolling start. The Sharks have no real injury problems and therefore anything extra, in terms of a break, is leaving them at a distinct disadvantage. Whoever the Sharks face, they want them sooner rather than later.
Kenneth is a graduate of the University of San Francisco in Politics and Chemistry. But his passion in life has always been hockey. He has played since he was four and even coached a few teams. Kenneth writes for the San Jose Sharks at thehockeywriters.com